Looking from the top of Nazareth at 1,200 feet elevation down toward the Sea of Galilee, at minus 700 feet elevation, I could at least console myself with the fact that the next 40 miles would be somewhat downhill.
Getting to the top of Nazareth with a pack on my back for the first time in 37 years left my heart pounding at the maximum rate for a 63 year old (which isn’t that fast.) I felt no chest pain, I thought, so at least my arteries can be presumed clear.
It is amazing that your body has a natural governor. Every year you age, your max heart rate goes down, keeping you from overtaxing your aging heart. Amazing!
That morning I had my own miracle, waking up in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, on Good Friday. I put on one of my two shirts, each of which was carefully selected for hiking sturdiness only to find both sleeves cleanly ripped at the elbows. The rips were both exactly the same and were in an exact straight line, encircling half the sleeve on both sides.
“What happened to your shirt,” my hiking companion Jeff asked. Without a seconds’ pause my mind thought about the ripping of the temple curtain, right down the middle, the moment Jesus gave up his spirit.
“It’s the miracle I was expecting,” I answered. “And I got it almost right away.”
Jeff scoffed, as my friends did later as I described the event. You may be scoffing as you read this. Don’t care. To me, it was yet another miracle, just like the fact that the moon and the sun appear in the sky exactly the same in size and a thousand other miracles we see yet mostly choose to ignore. We have eyes but we don’t see.
Now that I got the pilgrimage miracle over and done with, I was free to concentrate on the grueling task of hiking over hill and dale, and up fairly steep hills.
As we left the outskirts of Nazareth we saw a lot of illegal trash dumping. It was depressing, but having lived in rural Mississippi, I wasn’t shocked. But as the miles ticked behind, the urban trash gave way to beautiful nature. So many April flowers were in bloom, many of the species were fresh to my eyes, making their beauty even greater.
Within a few miles, we were already lost, having gone under a rope blocking our trail which we thought might have been put there by an irate landowner.
We were in a field, along a trail, yet our smartphone with GPS link showed us off trail. This was a pattern that would repeat itself every mile or so. Apparently, the Jesus Trail peaked five or six years ago, got slammed by Covid and has kind of fallen into disrepair. It was at this point we saw the only fellow backpackers on the trail for the entire hike, a German couple, who were equally lost. We went one way. They went the other way and we never saw them again.
My “All Trails” app with its clear demarcation of the Jesus Trail had given me a false sense of confidence. In fact, these trails can easily be created by just walking along and having the app trace your path and create a trail. Which means if the guy recording the trail path wanders around lost, then the people later following his trail will wander around lost. And that’s exactly what seemed to be happening.
The trick was to not take the GPS too seriously and keep an eye out for the periodic orange and white lines painted on trees, rocks and whatnot. Being a fairly densely populated country, there were natural trails linking one city/village to the next. We used these trails as best we could while generally following the path of the Jesus Trail.
This all was quite a bit different than what I envisioned: A clearly marked, wide groomed trail with lots of fellow hikers to meet and greet along the way. Indeed, we were pretty much alone in the middle of Israel, making our way from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee.
I was amazed how often we were walking along or through forests. I was also amazed by how quickly the panorama changed constantly as we hiked. Come to think of it, I have never really hiked like this in my life and it was quite pleasurable.
I laughed at Jeff for carrying his water filter but thank God he did. We were out of water when, miraculously, we stumbled on a natural crystal clear stream bubbling up from the ground. There was a father and son wading in the stream and they told us the water was excellent to drink. We filled up our water bottles and plunged on.
We ended up that night in Karf Kanna, as in Canaanites, with a population of 22,000, another mainly Muslim town with a significant Christian population with few Jews. Our hotel was right across from the Catholic Wedding Church where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine. Engraved in marble along the entire wall in front of the church was the entire passage in the Bible describing the event.
The wedding was for a friend or cousin of Jesus. The host committed the ultimate of social faux pas, running out of wine. Jesus’ mother Mary asked Jesus to help but Jesus deferred saying, “My hour has not yet come.” Mary responded by telling the servants to “do whatever he tells you to.”
Apparently Mary had some understanding of her son and that this was the time and place for his ministry and mission to start. It must have been some really good wine because we’re still talking about it 2,000 years later. (And I flew 7,000 miles to be on the spot where it happened.)
We stayed in the home/hotel of a Christian family that fed us a delicious meal at their own dinner table. I was mesmerized by the three big screens forming a security system displaying a dozen camera angles surrounding the hotel. There must be a reason for that.
We slept in a big common area with five rooms attached and one bath, but nobody was there but us. Being Ramadan, we were awoken multiple times during the night by the blaring speakers from the Mosque minarets exhorting town citizens to get up and pray. Despite the interruptions, I slept like a rock, being exhausted from the hike.
The next day, it was more illegal dumpling followed by astounding rural beauty. An old Muslim tending his olive garden waved us over to practice his English and tell us all about his ancestors the Canaanites. He told us the whole story of Moses from the Muslim perspective. The fundamentals were the same but the details were quite different.
A few miles later, we stopped on a big rock under a shade tree only to have a shepherd, his dog and his flock pass right by us. This was something I had never experienced. There were numerous other cool incidents to numerous to all mention.
Later, we came to a huge highway with no way to cross. Road construction was in progress and the foreman shooed us away saying “dangerous, dangerous.” We couldn’t figure out how to cross when we discovered a small concrete tunnel, just barely big enough to squeeze through.
Beggars can’t be choosers and we crawled our way through, glad there was no mud or rats. We were hungry and thirsty so I just used Google Maps to find a nearby restaurant and lo and behold there was a perfect one a half mile away and we had a fantastic meal and met a woman who invited us to stay at her home.